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How does Shakespeare's use of antithesis and oxymora create tension in Romeo and Juliet?

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meow24681 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 11, 2012 at 5:58 AM via web

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How does Shakespeare's use of antithesis and oxymora create tension in Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 11, 2012 at 9:01 PM (Answer #1)

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An antithesis is a rhetorical scheme that refers to opposites in phrases that are very close to each other. There are many excellent examples of antithesis all throughout Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare uses to create tension by portraying conflicting thoughts or emotion.

We especially see antithesis being used to express conflicting, tense emotions when we first meet Romeo in Act 1, Scene 1. Romeo is crying to Benvolio about his unreciprocsted love for Rosaline declares:

Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should without eyes see pathways to his will! (I.i.169-170)

In the first of these two sentence clauses, Romeo refers to Cupid as being blind or blind folded, but in the second he refers to Cupid as being able to see well enough to aim his arrows of love, regardless of his blindness. Since these two clauses juxtapose blindness with the opposite of seeing, it is a good example of antithesis. Also, the antithesis is being used by Shakespeare to express Romeo's desires to no longer be feeling love. His unrequited love for Rosaline is giving him tremendous pain, hence, in this line he is expressing his wish to never have felt love in the first place. The line builds tension because we see Romeo's intense emotions and do not know how things will turn out for him.

A second example of antithesis that expresses tension is found in the line, "O brawling love! O loving hate! (174). The word "brawling," or fighting, in the first clause is the exact opposite of "loving" in the second clause, which is the act of showing affection. Also the word "love" in the first clause is the exact opposite of "hate" in the second clause. This line builds tension because it expresses the intense feelings of both love and hate that are juxtaposed all throughout the play and lead to disaster.

This line also contains two excellent examples of oxymora. While antitheses contain opposites in two phrases or clauses, oxymora are a combination of two words that are contradictory. In this line "brawling love" is an oxymoron because, while it may be true that some couples sometimes quarrel, fighting is the exact opposite of love. Also, "loving hate" is a second oxymoron because "hatred," or intense dislike, is the exact opposite of "loving," or the act of expressing extreme affection.

Oxymora can also be seen in Romeo's line, "Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!" A feather is the exact opposite of lead, which is the heaviest metal; therefore, "feather of lead" is an oxymoron. Smoke has a dark black or charcoal color and is therefore the opposite of brightness, or bright color. Fire is burning hot and is therefore the exact opposite of cold. Health, or being without illness is the exact opposite of being sick. Hence we see that this line contains four different oxymora.

Again, Shakespeare uses these oxymora to build tension by expressing the intense juxtaposition between love and hatred that creates calamity in the play.

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